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  • Posted by: Rob Meyerson on Wednesday, January 16 2013 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

    Hasbro announced plans to update its beloved, 77-year old board game, Monopoly. Literally changing the game piece by piece, Hasbro will replace just one of its iconic, pewter game tokens before the end of this year. The familiar wheelbarrow, shoe, dog, racecar, top hat, iron, thimble, and battleship are each at risk of “going to jail,” to be replaced by a robot, diamond ring, helicopter, cat or guitar.


    This change may seem trivial to many, yet some diehard fans of the game are up in arms, arguing against any change at all. Of course, Hasbro must have expected —perhaps hoped for—exactly such a reaction.

    Other iconic brands like Gap and Tropicana have learned the hard way that refreshing a cherished cultural symbol is sure to spark debate, even when a corporation owns that symbol. Gap infamously redesigned their own logo in 2010, only to switch back a week later after consumers and the design community reacted vehemently. Tropicana saw sales plunge after a redesign to its packaging that did away with the popular straw-in-an-orange image.

    While the Monopoly change involves neither a logo nor packaging, similar principles apply in terms of how to handle such a shift.

    So far, Hasbro has done a lot right:

    • Making a small change first. Hasbro could have changed more than one piece at a time, as they’ve done in the past (it was “game over” for the lantern, purse, and rocking horse in the early 1950s). By putting a toe in the water, they may be testing the possibility of future, more far-reaching changes.
    • Involving the consumer. By using Facebook and Twitter (#tokenvote) to let fans vote on which pieces stay and which pieces go, Hasbro not only builds buzz around the change but also gives players a sense of ownership over the game and the new piece.
    • Having a little fun with it. From the interactive voting experience on Facebook to playful descriptions of the new piece candidates — the cat was “once worshipped in many parts of the world; still worshipped on the internet”—Hasbro is reminding us that, after all, it’s just a game.

    Still, some will surely frame this as little more than a PR stunt, a reaction that Hasbro might have mitigated by reminding consumers that the game pieces have already changed several times or by telling a richer story about why the piece must change, or what the tokens represent to begin with. Others will continue to denounce any change as sacrilegious.

    If we accept this change as a legitimate effort to update the game (who owns a flatiron these days, anyway?), it could be a careful step in the right direction. The skillful management of the tension between preserving authenticity and ensuring continued relevance helps great brands stand apart.

    Monopoly has a long, proud history. While this latest move is a bit of a roll of the dice, we applaud their execution and for now — in the spirit of the game — we’ll happily play along.

    Rob Meyerson is a Director, Verbal Identity, for Interbrand San Francisco.

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  • Posted by: Fred Burt on Sunday, May 29 2011 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

    Mothercare announced last week that it is closing a quarter of its U.K. stores in the next two years. Notwithstanding a shift to e-tailing, this is as clear a sign as any that its brand is not working. This is a real shame because there is a massive market out there and the brand could play a significant role in a market where the consumer drivers are fairly evident.

    First, there’s the element of unfamiliarity. New parents have little idea what to do and need all the hand-holding and emotional support they can get.

    Second, there’s the risk. Little Johnny or Jenny is the most precious thing in the world, and any design misfire like a loose button or a breakable toy is not just annoying, it’s potentially life threatening

    Third, you have fast change. Kids grow out of clothes, toys, and other paraphernalia -- and at a commercially attractive speed. In fact, it’s a parenting badge of honor to say that your kid out-grew his shoes in half the allotted time, as it suggests that he/she is healthy.

    Finally, there’s the issue of time. Parents’ free time barely exists so any brand that can address the above worries in a convenient way is going to be loved with almost the same.

    Mothercare should be cleaning up here. But Gap and M&S are the go-to brands for the baby shower set. Similarly, niche premium players like JoJo Maman Bebe and Petit Bateau are flourishing. Meanwhile Mumsnet is doing a great job at creating a community galvanized by these factors. It recently edited Mother’s Something For The Weekend newsletter and its ambition is there for all to see.

    Mothercare has to do something fast or a big competitor will take the U.K. market by the scruff of its neck and take market share quickly. Baby K by Myleene Klass looks like a step in the right direction, but there’s lots more Mothercare could do, such as doing more to stratify its offer or creating a digital community that takes on Mumsnet (as opposed to charging parents £2 for Gurgle).

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  • Posted by: Ryan Brazelton on Tuesday, March 1 2011 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

    I have very distinct childhood memories of going back-to-school shopping with my mother and spending the majority of our time and budget at JCPenney. Most of them center on me wading through racks and racks of t-shirts and oxfords, looking for items that looked like they were from Macy’s or higher-end stores that we couldn’t afford. Through the nineties and early 2000s, “Penney’s,” as my mother called it was a classic story of a retailer that has lost its way and was on a slow and steady decline to obscurity. However over the last five years, it has managed turn its brand around by updating merchandise, partnering with brands like Sephora, and putting out a more compelling brand and ad message, which brings us to 2011, and a brand new logo unveiling at the Academy Awards.

    Where to begin on the new crowdsourced logo? Many blogs, news outlets have already weighed in, with varying opinions ranging from comparing the new logo to the “Gapgate” disaster to giving JCPenney (or should we now write “jcpenney?”) a mild applause for evolving and responding to today’s trends and tastes. Interestingly enough, JCPenney is using all the same type and shapes as the failed new Gap logo. However, unlike Gap’s limp-wristed effort, it is using it in a more successful fashion.

    Overall the logo, the competent but uninspired work of a third-year design student at UC, plays it fairly safe. The past logo included the same typography and leveraged a red square, so the old familiar elements still exist. Gone (thankfully) is the corner-to-corner gradient from the past, where the entire mark was contained within the square. The new identity does appear to be friendlier, with the now lower-case “jcp” captured in the red box. At the same time, the new mark lends itself to being parted out: the boxed “jcp” lends itself to uses in digital and in-store communication packages. Overall, the logo does have a more modern appeal. However, it doesn’t reposition the brand as some new identities might. It certainly isn’t overly fashionable and still caters to JCPenney’s Middle America audience. Indeed, the change is so tame, that it is doubtful that the new look will upset any apple carts.

    And yet, the messaging that JCPenney is sending out on its website contrasts with the signal is sending through it logo. The website proclaims that the new identity is "...a move symbolizing JCPenney's transformation to become America's favorite shopping destination for discovering great styles at compelling prices..." and that it represents "the most meaningful update to the company's logo in 40 years.” It also states that it is an evolutionary step forward.

    The change is a move in the right direction, but is it revolutionary? No. Like Gap and the host of rebrands we’re seeing this post-recession year (Urban Outfitters, Starbucks, to name just a few), a new logo seems to have been done to create some news and not much else. In the case of JCPenney, the strategy hasn’t exactly backfired, but the question is, will it really succeed in differentiating the brand beyond just a short moment? Based on the logo alone, probably not.

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  • Posted by: Craig Stout on Thursday, January 6 2011 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

    Release the mermaid! In an effort to freshen the look of its brand, Starbucks yesterday announced a design evolution of its ubiquitous green logo: The “Siren” illustration has been liberated from the black ring. Gone, too, is the Starbucks Coffee logotype.

    The Siren has been the symbol at the center of the Starbucks brand mark for 40 years, and yet has never been used as a central figure or story of the Starbucks brand heritage. The connection from the Siren mermaid and the Starbucks brand name was never widely communicated to consumers. Sure, it was common knowledge in branding circles (and among English lit majors) that the name comes from a coffee-swilling old salt in the novel Moby Dick. And industry insiders know the mermaid logo is derived from Seattle's seafaring history. But most Starbucks customers have grown to love this unique name and logo without much context or explanation.

    The new, simple use of the logo is a natural evolution, in keeping with category leaders whose iconic symbols represent the brand without needing their names represented — as was done with the Nike swoosh, the Apple logo and the AT&T globe. Swapping the English language for a visual lingua franca should help Starbucks transcend its American heritage globally, freeing its internationally recognized icon to communicate the brand with clarity of identity.

    What is most interesting about the change is the way it was introduced. Generally rebrands are announced via broadcast advertising or in print; unveiling a new logo is usually a part of a major media spend. But Starbucks has historically avoided mass media advertising — so its online video announcement was true to its established communication style. And what’s uniquely savvy about this launch is the amount of explanation around the rationale for the rebrand. CEO Howard Schultz speaks at length about the business aspirations of Starbucks, the history of the brand logo and why Starbucks made the changes it did. Creative managers and writers from the Starbucks brand team have blog posts around the details of the design refinements and the lore of the brand. In the age of social media and increasing, real-time consumer involvement in brands’ stories, excessive communication and transparency may become mandatory when making a brand change.

    That’s why it’s such a smart move for Starbucks to contextualize and explain, not just drop the logo with a flashy campaign. Perhaps it was done in response to the lessons learned by Gap after its aborted brand evolution, where there was little or no communication of the rationale for the change. But unlike the Gap fiasco, this rebrand is elegant, visually intelligent and far from an overreach. The freed Siren makes sense and is well designed — in stark contrast to the visual abomination of the logo created for Gap.

    While there will inevitably be some initial criticism, it seems unlikely there will be Facebook hate pages dedicated to the new Starbucks logo as was done with Gap. As brands are living and breathing entities, every organization needs to continually update their look in some way. The new Starbucks logo is an appropriate evolution from where the brand has been, and its launch seems to be fairly well orchestrated. Raise a glass to toast Starbucks’ skill in avoiding the pitfalls of past rebranding efforts.

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  • Posted by: Scott Jeffrey on Thursday, December 2 2010 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

    The recent economy has created an abundance of unoccupied spaces and some retailers are putting them to good (if not permanent) use. Pop-up stores have become an interesting and profitable way to reach more customers as well as create increase brand awareness.
    Temporary in nature, pop-ups typically do not offer a full or in depth assortment of goods and can be leveraged to communicate varying ideas. Target, for example, has used pop-ups in Manhattan in the past to bolster its fashion cred in a very public forum. The stores created an enormous amount of buzz without carrying the typical staples available at most other Target facilities. 
    Toys ”R” Us has opened nearly 600 pop-up Toys “R” Us Express stores this holiday season, nearly doubling the number of doors they have open and thus adding a tremendous capacity for those must-have holiday toys. When it comes to branding, these stores are bare-bones and Spartan, to say the least. Temporary banners adorn the storefronts and stock fixture. This allows for the stores to be rolled up quickly after the holiday season has ended. The space is basically borrowed and fully looks the part. In contrast, the Target stores were exceptionally branded. (Watch the video above for the David Stark & Liberty of London for Target store, to get an idea.) The pop-ups seemed to stretch the Target brand to provide that fashion vibe that makes it so different from the more basic store. Two very different tactics with the same result in mind: increased exposure.

    Many established brands have also discovered that pop-up stores are a great way to publicize an event or product launch. It is an ideal way to create news around the brand with a quick strike that is both efficient and cost effective. Last year, the Gap leveraged the pop-up format to draw attention to its Pantone line of colorful T-shirts. Also last year, P&G launched a free sampling pop-up that encouraged guests to sample a variety of their products and had a good participation over a very short period. Both were done to create awareness of a product or line.
    In urban locations, I believe pop-up stores can create disruption in a daily commute that attracts attention — basically, due to activity in a vacant or seemingly forgotten space. In some instances, quirky or irregular architecture works for the brand and affords the opportunity to go beyond the typical branded look to make a statement. 

    Some brands also have discovered that occupying vacant tenant space allows them to play to a strictly seasonal customer and create an annual presence without the fixed costs of permanent facilities. Halloween City, a division of Spencer Gifts, occupies larger vacant spaces starting in the months leading up to Halloween. This past year, they had over 800 locations nationwide — not bad for a brand relevant only for short time each year. Wire fixtures, easy to put up and take down, are brought in for merchandise. Makeshift cash wraps and fitting rooms are the only other elements in the space. Lighting, flooring and wall are all carried over from the previous tenant. During the weeks leading up to the big event, pop-ups such as these drive traffic to neighboring established brands as well.

    Unoccupied mall space has also become plentiful. Many brands, like KB Toys, have shut their doors. The spaces that have opened up have become ideal for the mom and pop types of pop-ups. With an entrepreneurial dream and a good idea, these one-off stores have the potential to become the new brands and concepts of the future. Some of these infant brands will make it, some will not, but the pop-up store at least affords them the chance to legitimize their businesses in brick and mortar.

    Until the volume of vacant space is depleted, pop-up stores should thrive. They are an ideal way to create buzz and opportunity to extend your brand in a timely, cost-effective manner. 

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